NEW DELHI:BJP veteran Yashwant Sinha, a former finance minister, has skewered his own government’s economic performance in a lacerating opinion published in the Indian Express newspaper this morning, titled “I need to speak up now”.
Mr Sinha, who was sidelined after the BJP returned to power in 2014 and has often been critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, grimly notes what he calls “the mess the Finance Minister (Arun Jaitley) has made” of the economy and remarks that many may share his views but are silent out of “fear”.
“I shall be failing in my national duty if I did not speak up even now against the mess the finance minister has made of the economy. I am also convinced that what I am going to say reflects the sentiments of a large number of people in the BJP and elsewhere who are not speaking up out of fear,” Mr Sinha writes in the Express article.
“We protested against raid raj when we were in opposition. Today it has become the order of the day. Post demonetisation, the income tax department has been charged with the responsibility of investigating lakhs of cases involving the fate of millions of people. The Enforcement Directorate and the CBI also have their plates full. Instilling fear in the minds of the people is the name of the new game,” the senior BJP leader writes in his no-holds-barred critique.
Unsparing of both PM Modi and Mr Jaitley, he writes caustically: “Bluff and bluster is fine for the hustings, it evaporates in the face of reality. The prime minister claims that he has seen poverty from close quarters. His finance minister is working over-time to make sure that all Indians also see it from equally close quarters.”
Among the first rival politicians to react was former finance minister P Chidambaram of the Congress, who quoted from the article and tweeted: “Yashwant Sinha speaks Truth to Power. Will Power now admit the Truth that economy is sinking?” and “… ETERNAL TRUTH: No matter what Power does, ultimately Truth will prevail.”
Mr Sinha, in his summary of the economy, says: “Private investment has shrunk as never before in two decades, industrial production has all but collapsed, agriculture is in distress, construction industry, a big employer of the work force, is in the doldrums, the rest of the service sector is also in the slow lane, exports have dwindled, sector after sector of the economy is in distress, demonetisation has proved to be an unmitigated economic disaster, a badly conceived and poorly implemented GST has played havoc with businesses and sunk many of them and countless millions have lost their jobs with hardly any new opportunities coming the way of the new entrants to the labour market.”
The growth rate has been declining, he says, and adds: “The spokespersons of the government say that demonetisation is not responsible for this deceleration. They are right. The deceleration had started much earlier. Demonetisation only added fuel to fire.”
There is also a reference to BJP Chief Amit Shah, as Mr Sinha quotes the State Bank of India as saying that the slowdown is not “technical”. He writes: “It has openly contradicted what the BJP president said just a few days ago that the slowdown in the last quarter was on account of ‘technical’ reasons and will be corrected soon.”
He comments that the methodology for calculation of the GDP was changed by the present government in 2015 and “…according to the old method of calculation, the growth rate of 5.7 per cent is actually 3.7 per cent or less.”
Mr Sinha predicts that a revival by the time of the next Lok Sabha election “appears highly unlikely” and “a hard landing is inevitable.”
Many critics including the Congress tweeted the article, ensuring its place among top trends. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party called it a “very hard-hitting article”.
Economist Surjit Bhalla – a member of the PM’s new economic advisory council – when asked to comment on the “technical reasons”, had told NDTV yesterday: “I don’t want to use the term technical….I don’t think it’s technical, I think it’s structural.”
Mr Bhalla also said he believed reforms since 2014, when the Modi government took charge, have been positive. “We can argue as to whether they should have moved faster but I think the evidence history will judge and I think will judge as I am saying that there were mega reforms.”